Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Role Model for Both Clinton and Obama

The race and gender issues that haunt this year's campaigns were embodied by one person who ran for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1972 and won 152 delegates before losing to Sen. George McGovern.

As a first-term House member, Shirley Chisholm had even less experience then than Obama does now, but she was an inspirational figure who understood the importance of reaching out. When her racist opponent George Wallace was shot during the campaign, she visited him in the hospital. Years later, when Chisholm was pushing a bill to give domestic workers a minimum wage, Wallace got her enough votes from southern Congressmen to pass it.

We had been together on the New York delegation to the raucous 1968 Democratic convention, which nominated Hubert Humphrey and failed to pass a resolution to end the war in Vietnam. But Chisholm won a seat in Congress that year and, what she said in her first speech on the House floor could serve as a guide for both Clinton and Obama now:

"We Americans have come to feel that it is our mission to make the world free. We believe that we are the good guys, everywhere, in Vietnam, in Latin America, wherever we go. We believe we are the good guys at home, too...Unless we start to fight and defeat the enemies in our own country, poverty and racism, and make our talk of equality and opportunity ring true, we are exposed in the eyes of the world as hypocrites when we talk about making people free.

"I am deeply disappointed at the clear evidence that the number one priority of the new administration is to buy more and more and more weapons of war...and to ignore the war we must fight here, the war that is not optional. There is only one way, I believe, to turn these policies around. The Congress must respond to the mandate that the American people have clearly expressed. They have said, 'End this war. Stop the waste. Stop the killing. Do something for our own people first.'"

She was ahead of her time in more ways than one.

No comments: